Care worker branded ‘troublemaker’ for raising concerns at residents death from scalding hot bath

A former worker at a nursing home where a dementia patient died after being placed into a scalding hot bath said he was labelled a “troublemaker” for raising safety issues.

Frances Norris, 93, suffered injuries to her lower legs and feet after two carers put her into a scalding bath at Birdsgrove Nursing Home (pictured) in Bracknell, Berkshire, in 2015 and died in hospital three days later.

Aster Healthcare, which runs the home, pleaded guilty to corporate manslaughter on Wednesday but said it has since made improvements.

The company appeared for a sentencing hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday, alongside care home manager Elizabeth West, 46, and carer Noel Maida, 50, who both pleaded guilty to failing to discharge a duty.

Aster Healthcare accepted that it falsified water temperature records, falsified a record of the servicing of thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs), and falsified a contract of the servicing to be provided to the Care Quality Commission and Health and Safety Executive after Ms Norris’s death.

Prosecutor Oliver Glasgow told the court that the company had tried to “cover up” its failings.

Mitigating for Aster Healthcare, Jamas Hodivala told the court that, although the company had a history of failings, its director, Sheth Jeebun, had always acted quickly when a problem was raised.

“From 2014 there was a significant improvement in the company’s approach,” said Mr Hodivala.

“In 2012, Mr Jeebun was emailed by Elizabeth West saying there was no heating at the home. He responded within 45 minutes asking if it was sorted, and stated that no-one had told him about that problem before. He emailed maintenance and booked an engineer to fix and service the boiler, which was done.

“I submit that, by 2015, this was not a company that was cutting corners.”

This was disputed by Tanya Robinson, mitigating for West, who read out statements from previous Aster employees, including a care home manager and a former maintenance worker.

In her statement, the former manager at Birdsgrove said she felt “powerless” to make changes at the home.

The former maintenance worker said in his statement that he was made out to be a “troublemaker” for raising issues about a boiler.

Ms Robinson said: “He said Mr Jeebun was known for not wanting to spend his money. When he said the boilers at the home needed to be serviced, an unqualified engineer issued gas certificates within 45 minutes. Another engineer later condemned them.

“After that he says he was treated as a troublemaker and was later made redundant.”

Ms Robinson told the court that West felt unable to “bring about real or lasting change” at the care home as spending was authorised by Mr Jeebun.

She said: “She would say Mr Jeebun and the company had a role in controlling the risk but didn’t do so. She was powerless to bring about real or lasting change to the home unless she appealed. She regrets not standing up to him (Mr Jeebun) more.

“I say directly to the family on behalf of Ms West that she is truly sorry.”

Mr Hodivala told the court that lessons had been learned and Aster Healthcare has made improvements since Ms Norris’s death in 2015.

He said: “There have been training, policy, risk assessment changes and changes relating to TMVs. There is a calendar showing when audits are due and when they have been completed.

“A bathing policy was created in 2015 and is now reviewed every two years. There is now a bathing checklist.

“TMV fitting is now contracted out and that company carry out checks two times a month on top of checks by maintenance. The company also completes legionella risk assessments bi-annually.”

Mitigating for Maida, Mark Milliken-Smith told the court Maida lied about the incident to police, and only pleaded guilty on Wednesday because he was “frightened.”

He said: “In hindsight he wishes he had entered his guilty plea many months early. Not for himself, but for Ms Norris, which perhaps is a sign of how truly sorry he is.

“He panicked when he first realised what he was responsible for and how serious that was, and he lied. He reiterates those heartfelt words he said to Ms Norris, ‘I’m so sorry.’”

He added that he has remained “haunted” by Ms Norris’ death.

Mr Milliken-Smith said that although Maida had bathed Ms Norris, the bath had not been serviced, had not been fitted with a TMV and was not working as it should have been.

He added: “As soon as they [Maida and the junior carer] saw Ms Norris was in pain, they hoisted her from the bath and took her to her room. There is no question that thereafter that they acted both quickly and properly.”

The barrister added that Maida was blamed “with ease” by “owners of the company and senior management, which was part of a pattern of apparent dishonesty before and after the incident on February 5 designed to save their own backs and money.”

The sentencing continues.

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